Product Returns: The Result, Not The Cause Of A Problem

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Most dealers view the customer with a return as a "problem customer" and not a "customer with a problem." Any product purchased by a consumer and returned (for any reason) costs everyone involved, including the customer, time and money —a lot of money.

The problem lies not only in that it costs a lot to process returned products, but in the fact that the product was returned at all. It's been proven that the vast majority of all returns have absolutely nothing technically wrong with them. So why are they returned?

Retailers and manufacturers are jointly responsible for the consumer experience regarding the products they offer, yet rarely do they effectively work together to address the solutions to the consumers' problems that are causing returns.

The goal of improved manufacturer and retailer cooperation should be to develop a strategy to reduce returns that addresses:

  • what customers should do when they have a problem;
  • determining what caused the real or perceived problem; and
  • implementing effective measures to prevent the problem from occurring again.

Here are a few suggestions on how to keep the consumer happy and the product sold:

  1. Clearly identify what it is you want the consumer to do when they have a question or a problem. Make sure that the product, the information on and in the box, and the salesperson (if there is one) clearly communicate this. And make sure that when the consumer is instructed to do something, like contact a call center, that this is the most efficient way to resolve the problem.
  2. Determine how you will capture and communicate usability issues that consumers are experiencing. How are these findings communicated throughout the organization? How will they be addressed in future product development, packaging, in-store displays and retail sales product training? Do you have a plan? If not, only sales will decrease, not returns.
  3. Verify on a frequent basis that the instructions in and on the box and Web site contain up-to-date information. Do you have a stop sheet and a quick-start guide? Are they lost within the instruction package or are they attached to the product so that they cannot be missed?

Other points to consider: Are instructions written at or below a sixth-grade level? Does your Web site guide the consumer with a problem to easily find the solution? Are the FAQs updated to reflect the changes in consumer questions throughout the life cycle of the product?

  1. Create and implement training with retailers for sales and service/return counter associates. Training must include not only the features and benefits of the product but also issues the average consumer may experience in learning how to operate the device. Utilize the consumer information obtained by the call center and Web site to update training on an ongoing basis.

We all know that most products are returned because "they didn't perform as expected." There was a breakdown somewhere along the product development and sales life cycle. What is important is to make sure it happens less often in the future than it has in the past. This will only occur through better cooperation and communication of the issues between retailers and manufacturers.


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